Monday, 22 February 2010

Lessons from Nelson Mandela #2

So, continuing with some thoughts from Playing the Enemy/Invictus.

I love the way that Mandela was able to challenge those around him - followers and 'enemies' alike.

He challenged his opponents, through the rugby authorities, about using the new flag, representing the new, inclusive South Africa; and he challenged his followers when they wanted to replace the green Springbok jersey. In both situations, he used his dominant position wisely - not jeopardising his influence over things that were of no consequence and not alienating people when he challenged them. In both cases, he was able to present his case on a reasonable basis, but also with an intriguing compromise.

The tradition of both sides dictated that their anthem had to be the one that was sung before rugby matches - the ANC wanted their freedom song 'Nkosi Sikeleli'; the Afrikaners insisted on the traditional, and equally provocative 'Die Stem'. The brilliant compromise was to combine them... and to convince the rugby players to learn to sing 'Nkosi Sikeli'. The version below gives the effect - although it lacks the power and passion of a rugby crowd.

Challenge and compromise - essential tools in the leaders kitbag.

One other impressive thing - in my opinion - about Mandela was the change in his attitude over the years. He developed a capacity for humility. Before he went to prison, his pride meant that his only way of engaging with his opponents was to go 'head to head', 'pride to pride' and the only possible outcome was that the dominant power would win. As time went by he cultivated a different approach, engaging with the other person, adopting a humble - but not subservient position. This frequently had the effect of disrupting the power equilibrium in the situation and changing the probable outcome.

And finally - for this entry - he developed an astonishing capacity to forgive. His lack of (obvious) bitterness was the key factor in persuading many Afrikaners that they could trust Mandela. It was expected, and would have been seen as reasonable, if Mandela had chosen to settle old scores when he was released from prison. Instead, he chose to establish relationships, heal wounds, and build coalitions.

Powerful lessons for all of us.

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